From Mana Pools we flew over the Zambezi and Kariba Dam to Hwange National Park in eastern Zimbabwe on the border with Botswana. Hwange is Zimbabwe’s largest reserve, holding one of the highest concentrations of wildlife in Africa, in particular buffalo and elephants. More than 45,000 elephants roam here (considerably more than the area should hold).
Our two camps within the Linkwasha concession, Davison’s and Little Makalolo, were perfectly situated to witness wonderful wildlife, overlooking large waterholes. Open plains and pans ringed by short grasses attracted Southern Giraffe, Blue Wildebeest, Warthogs, and many more.
Sable Antelope were exquisite-looking with deep burgundy coats, and long curved horns that arch majestically backwards. Many animals meant prime lion territory! Once the haunt of Cecil the Lion, his offspring now patrol this vast area, and we enjoyed multiple encounters with the big cats.
Seven lionesses crouched in a row at the water’s edge, lapping up a drink before being chased away by a tight-knit herd of fast-approaching elephants. Two male lions, fresh from a slumber, roared feet away from our vehicle, before heading out at dusk, joined by three lionesses and seven cubs. One evening, while sipping sundowners and watching lionesses on the far side of Linkwasha pan, we suddenly became aware of a male taking a drink just 150 feet away from our vehicle! Another heart-pounding, special safari moment!
We enjoyed two separate Cheetah sightings. One peaceful encounter we watched two brothers resting on a termite mound. Excitement abounded at another time when a troop of Chacma Baboons chased three Cheetahs, who ended up flushing a family of feeding Warthogs and capturing the smallest one.
We were beckoned from a mid-day siesta to watch herds of elephants saunter in to the Little Makalolo waterhole. We positioned ourselves quickly behind a hide on the edge of the water, and became surrounded by the behemoths just a few feet away as they drank and bathed. Herd after herd tromped into the waterhole, some trumpeting their arrival. They were joined by Burchell’s Zebra and Southern Giraffe, the tallest creature of the plains. It was absolutely exhilarating to be in the presence of these giants.
Noteworthy bird sightings in the area included Capped Wheatears feeding three youngsters near their underground nest hole, many Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Red-crested Koorhan, Red-chested Cuckoo, the gorgeous Crimson-breasted Shrike, Brubru, Bradfield’s Hornbill, Dickinson’s Kestrel, and Zambezi teak-mopane woodland specialists Arnot’s Chat and Racket-tailed Rollers. The latter held us spell-bound with its unique display of rising up and dropping vertically head first before opening up into flight.
The common raptor was African Hawk Eagle, with White-headed Vultures, Wahlberg’s and Tawny Eagle, Steppe Buzzard and Shikra also sighted. We did extraordinarily well with owls, including African Barred Owl, pairs of Verreaux’s Eagle Owl and Spotted Eagle Owl. The night game drive highlighted Southern White-faced Owl, Small-spotted Genet and comical kangaroo-bouncing Spring Hares!